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article imageReview: Hello World, just how far should we trust machines? Special

By Tim Sandle     Dec 27, 2018 in Technology
Computers were developed as tools, then they became our toys. Now they are all around us, increasingly involved in the our daily lives and beginning to make decisions. In the book 'Hello World', Hannah Fry attempts to make sense of it all.
If you have questions about where machine learning is heading, want a recap on which aspects of our lives are already impacted (computer-aided medical diagnosis is already here for instance), and what the extent of artificial intelligence making decisions, and the implications, could mean then the book Hello World is a great place to begin.
The book is written by Hannah Fry, who is an Associate Professor in the mathematics of cities from University College London. Dr. Fry is also a television presenter and public speaker. Her work includes looking into patterns of human behavior, such as relationships and dating and how mathematics can apply to them.
Fry's book Hello World, published in 2018, is a book that considers how we have gradually handed over control of much of our lives to computers and what this means for our society. Fry describes how there are algorithms everywhere: in our hospitals, our courtrooms, our police stations and our supermarkets.
The book not only considers where we are now, it also looks at where we are headed in the near future and this leads to the question 'what kind of world we want to live in?' This includes posing conundrums. For example, if you are in court would you rather be judged by a human or a machine? If you go with human then you may well get a harsher sentence; if you plump for machine, then it's quite likely that your sentence will be in line with similar crimes.
Take a second example, if you need a liver transplant to save your life. Who would you want in charge of organ allocation? If it is an algorithm, then a machine can match organ donors with patients, potentially saving many more lives. However, the outcome might be to send you to the back of the queue.
While Fry charts where machines are heading, she also remains skeptical about many of the current claims made by developers of machine learning. Things are not yet as sophisticated as they are made out to be.
Fry concludes the book with the comment that it is important that algorithms need to be transparent and accountable to humanity. and that people should be involved in critical aspects of programming. Algorithms should also be regularly reviewed and audited, with respect to the decisions that are being made.
The book is straightforward to read, eloquently written, and very accessible. If you are interested in the questions behind technology, and recognize that technology is not a neutral force, then reading this book is a worthwhile use of your time. The questions posed matter now and they will matter even more in the not-too-distant future.
More about Book review, machine learning, Artificial intelligence
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